Visitors to the highland community of Oventic in Chiapas, Mexico, are greeted by a spectacular series of murals. Their brilliant colors cover the community food store and storage building, the health clinic, the elementary and secondary schools, and a rambling old cattle barn that has been converted into a community center.
Clearly, there is a new generation of artists in Chiapas who are continuing the legacy of Mexican mural painting revolutionized by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The visual symbols of these masters fill monumental walls of government buildings as well as schools in rural and urban communities. They present the seesaw of history from the pre-Columbian and colonial past to the recent pride in Mexico's indigenous roots, cultural heritage, and stubborn resistance to exploitation. The muralists' vibrant brush strokes of color and form engage the hearts and soul of both the nonliterate campesinos and urban elites. The revolutionary Zapatista murals in Chiapas can be serious, symbolic, and humorous. They vary in style from stark black outlines to a brilliant blending of colors.
Across a newly constructed interior classroom wall in Oventic stretches a mural that emphasizes the importance of education for women. "Education should train students to think for themselves," Oventic's school coordinator told a group of visitors, "to understand the reason for our struggle...to unite our voices against the globalization of poverty." The mural portrays a dream-like image of a young girl holding a book. One side of the book portrays the brutality of colonization; the other depicts the determined resistance of campesinos.
Betty LaDuke is a painter, activist, and teacher who lives in Ashland, Oregon. These photos are part of LaDuke's "Latin American Transitions" exhibit. More of LaDuke's work and the exhibit schedule can be found at www.bettyladuke.com .